Thursday, 10 October 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2013)

ELGAR Violin Concerto
Orchestra of the Music Makers 
Chan Tze Law
OMM Live! / *****

In 1932, Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) conducted and recorded for His Master’s Voice his Violin Concerto in B minor, now considered one of the great recordings of the last century. The soloist was the 16-year-old prodigy Yehudi Menuhin, on his way to becoming one of violin’s immortals. In 2011, 16-year-old Singaporean Gabriel Ng, a student of the Menuhin School, repeated the feat in a concert performance that has been captured in this recording. While it is pointless to compare note-for-note the merits of the two, Ng more than holds his own in a crowded field.

What is astonishing is not just the instrumental achievement, but the sensitivity, sheer warmth and depth of expression he brings to this sprawling work. Just listen to his entry in the 1st movement, or the hush of the accompanied cadenza in the finale. Playing at 47 minutes, he is only slightly faster than Menuhin’s 50 minutes. All the superlatives showered on Menuhin at the time also firmly apply to Ng. Other points of spiritual connection: conductor Chan Tze Law, a committed Elgarian, was a student of Hugh Bean, who in turn was taught by Albert Sammons, the first violinist to record this concerto. The splendid Orchestra of the Music Makers which plays like professionals is, of course, named after Elgar’s choral masterpiece The Music Makers. This is a candidate for Record of the Year, without a doubt.

GOLDMARK Rustic Wedding Symphony
Symphony No.2
Singapore Symphony / SHUI LAN
BIS 1842 / ****1/2

There was a time when the music of the Austro-Hungarian composer Karl Goldmark (1830-1915) was regularly heard in concert halls. His Violin Concerto was a virtuoso vehicle performed by Nathan Milstein and Itzhak Perlman, and the 45-minute long Rustic Wedding Symphony (1875) in five movements had champions in Leonard Bernstein, AndrĂ© Previn and Sir Thomas Beecham. It was about time a top rank recording reappeared, and here it is, from our very own backyard.  

Quite unusually, it opens with an elaborate set of Variations on a bucolic theme, one that would have garnered high praise had it come from the pen of Brahms or Dvorak (which it resembles). The short Bridal Song and Intermezzo movements are country dances, the kind that appears in Mahlerian symphonies. The best music comes in the 4th and 5th movements, the tender In The Garden and a rousing fugal finale which shows that counterpoint could also be lots of fun. The coupling is Goldmark’s less memorable Second Symphony (1887), which   sounds influenced by Brahms; not so shabby at all.

The Singapore Symphony under Music Director Shui Lan give sympathetic and refined performances. But does one remember when the SSO actually performed the Rustic Wedding Symphony in concert? That would be 31 July 2009, during the forgettable first half of a concert totally overshadowed by Li Yundi’s nightmare with the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto. That is memory for you. 

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